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Tributes paid to boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Irish links

Muhammad Ali made a famous visit to his Irish ancestral home of Ennis, Co Clare in 2009. Picture by Justin Kernoghan

THE Irish sporting fraternity has paid tribute to former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali who had strong links with Ireland.

The late boxing legend made several visits to Ireland, including a trip to Co Clare after tracing his roots back to Ennis.

Ali's great-grandfather, Abe Grady, was born and grew up in the town before he emigrated to America in 1860, later marrying an Afro-American woman who was a former slave.

The boxer, one of the world's best-known sportsmen, celebrated his Irish roots with a visit to the town in 2009 when he was granted the Freedom of Ennis.

His great-grandfather's home has long been demolished and a new housing estate is now in its place but a monument marking the spot was unveiled by Ali during his visit.

Floral tributes have been laid at the site over the weekend following his death.

The three-time world heavyweight champion also visited Croke Park in Dublin in 2003 to attend the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics.

He also fought at Croke Park in 1972 as part of a world tour he undertook following his defeat to Joe Frazier in 1971.

In the week leading up to the fight, he met people from all walks of life in Dublin from celebrities to politicians and members of the public.

Among those he met was actor Peter O'Toole, director John Huston, whose boxing movie, Fat City, was screened with Ali in attendance.

He also met Taoiseach Jack Lynch in Leinster House and political activist Bernadette Devlin.

Described as an "icon of sport", tributes have been paid to Ali since his death from sports stars and beyond.

North Belfast boxer Carl Frampton ?said Ali was "the greatest" and was "one of the most influential men that ever lived".

Former world champion Barry McGuigan also paid tribute to Ali, describing him as "the greatest sportsman there has ever been" and "a remarkable human being".

"He was hugely inspirational for me and many fighters all over the world." he added.

Two-times Olympics bronze medallist Paddy Barnes said: "Sad day for sport all over the world, RIP Muhammad Ali".

World amateur boxing champion Michael Conlan said Ali "showed the world how great you were".

President Michael D Higgins said: "As a sportsman and humanitarian, and as someone who struggled for a very long time with one of the most debilitating illnesses, he offered courage in the face of great difficulties".

Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International also paid tribute to Ali's devotion to advancing humanitarian causes.

The 74-year-old was the recipient of Amnesty’s lifetime achievement award in recognition for his work in promoting civil rights, interfaith understanding and hunger relief.

Mr Corrigan said as well as being "one of the greatest boxers of all time", Ali had "devoted his life to leaving the world a better a place than he found it".

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